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Scented Pictures Luke Turner , May 16th, 2018 07:29

Aaron Hemphill has some fun after he left Liars, and the result is compelling and rewarding

One of the many things that has made Liars perhaps the most exciting American group of the last 15 years was the relationship between Aaron Hemphill and Angus Andrew. Was the former the technical wizard, leaving the giant Australian the space to do his shamen-of-the-bong flailing? Or was it less clear cut? Whatever the case, their undeniable mutual magic meant that when he and Andrew announced their seperation last year, I was not alone in wondering how each would fare alone. There was no need to worry - Andrew's continued work under the Liars moniker resulted in the brilliant TFCF and some of the band’s best gigs in years. Happily, his former bandmate’s first solo album is similarly rewarding.

If anything, Scented Pictures is perhaps unexpectedly even more whacked-out and weird than anything Liars recorded across the seven albums while Hemphill was with the group. It’s curious too that just as TFCF is still very much a Liars album, well, so is this - there's the same disintegrating, hip-hop-inspired beats on second track ‘The Timeless Now’, hypnotic murmured and repeated vocal refrains, the rattling unease and nocturnal paranoia contrasting with eddies of utterly lovely melody. If Andrew had released this as Liars last year, you’d not have batted an eyelid, and vice versa with TFCF. The paradox of it all just makes Scented Pictures an even more compelling listen.

What is strikingly different is how deeply Hemphill has embraced scratchy, lo-fi sonics and a more fragmented approach to his arrangements. He has said that he embraced fun while recording Scented Pictures in Berlin, “doing the silliest things” as part of the process, be that encouraging the studio engineer to distract him or haphazardly mic-ing up a piano. Throughout you really get a sense of an artist relaxing, stretching, finding space to breathe out on his own. ‘Cherry Cola’, for instance, fizzes away almost to nothing before a loping rhythm and languid vocal come back in, eyelid-heavy after one blaze too many, trying to get to a door that mysteriously appears to be a lot further away than it should be. Every track appears with a halo of weird sonics, scratches, hisses, pranging noise, murk all over the vocals - but in the best possible way, like the scrambling invisible life in the grey threads of mould covering a rotting pear.

Scented Pictures is an album of two distinct moods, the more Madlib-beats-and-weird-noises side (high mark ‘Ditchglass, They Think’) gradually giving way to calmer waters. The switch comes on the relentless and potent ‘Invisible Jets’, which sounds like his former group’s pop screamer ‘Mess On A Mission’ being put through a turbine somewhere in the bowels of a dank and gigantic dam.

From then on in, its gorgeous, blissed-out songs like ‘Press Play’ and the title track, which take the weird pop sensibilities of Brian Eno’s 70s solo album to a car maintenance shop in the same way as Grumbling Fur guide them on a trip around stone circles. Indeed, burying his vocal melodies deep underground and seeing what might emerge through the dirt and the gloaming is quite a theme throughout. On ‘The Fever That Goes Up And Down’ Hemphill's vocals float like a ghost amid school band snare rattle and a weird organ. There's a speed-up-slow-down ol' time music hall aspect to ‘Most Boys’ that isn’t a billion miles from something you’d hear on a Caretaker recording.

We're not some low-rent gossip site and therefore won't speculate on what might have caused the founding members of Liars to go different ways. Suffice to say, it’s gratifying to hear both creative entities taking the sonic, aesthetic DNA of their former partnership and making such compelling new forms as they start out on their own. If anything, Hemphill must have had the harder job - given Andrew’s towering presence and the fact he kept the Liars name - and with that in mind, Scented Pictures is a satisfying whiff of terrific continuing potential.